Genius and Genesis

Magdalena Wisniowska

conference: DARE 2017: aberrant nuptials
date: November 22, 2017
venue: Orpheus Institute, Auditorium
format: in words
practice: image
keywords: colour, genius

abstract about the author(s)


More than thirty years after Rosalind Krauss published her critique of originality in the journal October, the pursuit of a workable concept of genius might seem like a pointless task. Genius, despite its continual art-market appeal has no place in the discussion of contemporary or even historic art-making, where it is rightly rejected as an obsolete concept belonging to a different time. Kant wrote about genius, as did modernists such as Fry or Greenberg—whereas, we are all post-Kantian now.

No one in the art world today believes in the concept Rosalind Krauss exposed as myth. She argues that the avant-garde’s search for originality had a meaning other than the revolt against tradition or the rejection of the past with which it is synonymous. Originality here stands for origin, new beginning, and birth. It is embodied in the figure of the genius, where absolute origin is identified with the artist’s self, uncontaminated by tradition and capable of continual regeneration. Yet, if one looks at the example of the grid, the actual practice of avant-garde art shows that the concept of originality emerges from the ground of recurrence and repetition. Artist after artist seems to have fallen for the same structural properties, mistaking the grid’s opaqueness, purity, and silence for the promise of a new beginning. Paradoxically, originality is enacted in the creation of a structure that can only be repeated, more so, a structure that is riven by processes of representation from within. In light of Krauss’s critique, the current work of one of GiG Munich’s exhibiting artists, Tim Bennett, is intriguing, even troubling. For, at his recent exhibition at Jo van de Loo, Me-is–—ter (a play on the German word, Meister, master), he seemed more than happy to repeat the avant-garde’s mistakes. His paintings were made by pouring tinted plaster through gypsum board in a manner that recalled Jackson Pollock at the height of his fame. These were accompanied by three abstract sculptures consisting of equal sized marble blocks, chipped away in best modernist fashion, the broken pieces saved and reassembled at the top, some painted in bright pastel colours. Both the work and the title evoked the concept of genius, indulging in its familiar narrative. Bennett’s manner of working—craftsman-like and matter of fact—only heightened this impression.

Using Tim Bennett’s exhibition as a starting point, this paper re-examines the narrative of genius, taking into account, on the one hand, Krauss’s critique of originality, and on the other hand, Giles Deleuze’s reading of Kant’s Critique of Judgement from a genetic perspective, “The Idea of Genesis in Kant’s Esthetics.” Since the publishing of Krauss’s essay, genius has been equated with the originality of the avant-garde, the dismissal of one necessarily entailing the dismissal of the other. By making genius a spokesperson for the principle of genesis, Deleuze reconfigures Krauss’s binary coupling of originality and repetition, in favour of the productive indeterminacy that is one of the topics of the current conference. Central to my argument is Deleuze’s definition of genetic principle as the free and indeterminate accord between imagination and understanding that comes prior to any further legislation by the faculties. The paper discusses how such a revised notion of indeterminate genesis affects our understanding of contemporary art.

about the author(s)

Magdalena Wisniowska

Magdalena Wisniowska is an independent researcher, project space leader, and artist, currently based in Munich. She studied fine art at the Royal Academy in London and completed a PhD in visual cultures at Goldsmiths College, London, in 2010. A participant in the conference Aesthetics of the 21st Century in 2012, her essays on speculative realism and Deleuzian aesthetics have been published as part of Speculations, in Deleuze Studies, and in SubStance. Since 2015 she has been running an art project space, GiG Munich. Notable exhibitions include USA (in cooperation with Camberwell College of Art), Stefan Lenhart, fruits of the dawn, and inorganic landscape featuring Rebecca Partridge, Stefanie Hofer, and Miriam Salamander.

info & contact


Independent researcher, project-space leader and artist, Munich, DE


gigmunich [AT]